Why Go Vegan?
There are many excellent reasons for going vegan and different people have different motivations for doing so, but the most compelling reasons to go vegan concern the rights of animals, the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and the climate, and the social injustice inherent in the meat-centered diet.
Every year, human-beings slaughter 100 billion animals for food. Billions more are killed and enslaved annually for their tusks, horns, hides, wool, bile, feathers, and fur, and as the subjects of barbaric experiments in vivisection labs around the world. Most of these animals suffer needlessly agonizing lives before dying in terror, and often in excruciating pain. Because non-human animals also feel pain, possess consciousness, experience emotions, have intelligence, and form social bonds, there is no excuse to be made for treating them as mere objects, commodities, and machines.
Because intelligence, consciousness, sociability, and sensitivity to pain are the very qualities that we invoke in defense of our own rights to personal liberty and freedom from unnecessary suffering, on what grounds could we deny those very rights to our fellow creatures who also possess these traits and who, we have every reason to believe, value their own lives every bit as much as we value ours?
Veganism involves much more than just food choices, but the issue of our relationship to non-human animals as a source of food can be distilled to a single, simple, and very urgent question: Is it moral to revoke the life of a living, breathing, sentient being for no other reason than that you have a certain fondness for the taste of her muscles, organs, and bodily secretions?
To answer "yes" is to assert that the fleeting sensory pleasure derived from eating meat and other products made from the bodies of non-human animals matters more than the lives of the animals themselves. It is to place the preferences of one species above the very lives of other species. To answer "no" is to acknowledge the obvious and undeniable: that the lives of non-human animals matter more than the gastronomic preferences of human beings.
Once you have made this acknowledgement, how is it possible to justify not being vegan? If the lives of non-human animals matter more than the sensory experiences and trivial preferences of human beings, then how could anyone reasonably deny a cow, a pig, or a chicken her right to live, on the basis of nothing more than an ephemeral desire to satisfy one's own sense of taste? To be vegan is to accept that one's treatment of animals should be governed by one's sense of right and wrong, and not one's senses of taste and smell.
If non-human animals have any moral significance whatsoever, then the only reasonable, compassionate, and morally defensible response to the original question regarding the morality of eating animals is "no". And the only appropriate and consistent option available to anyone who takes the question seriously is to be vegan.
No industry in the world is responsible for more environmental devastation than the global animal by-product industry. According to scientists at the World Bank, animal agriculture is responsible for 51 percent of man-made greenhouse gases, which is more than all forms of transportation combined and tripled. It is also the world's leading cause of deforestation and water pollution and uses one third of all the world's fossil fuels, one half of all fresh water on the planet, and 70 percent of all agricultural land.
America's billions of factory farmed animals produce a staggering quantity of excrement: about 89,000 pounds per second. And unlike municipal sewage, the animal waste from factory farms is not treated, so all the potentially lethal pathogens such as E. coli, Cryptospordium, and Salmonella remain intact. All that pathogen-laden, antibiotic-ridden waste has to go somewhere and a terrifying percentage of it winds up in our rivers, aquifers, tributaries, and oceans. In the United States, untreated animal waste in the forms of feces, urine, vomit, and other effluvia, have polluted the ground-water in seventeen states. Thirty-five thousand miles of America's rivers in twenty-two states have been contaminated by the excrement from factory farms. Thirty-five thousand miles is fourteen times the distance from New York to Los Angeles, or one-and-a-half times the circumference of the Earth.
A single spill from an eight-acre pig-manure lagoon in Onslow County, North Carolina in 1995 dumped twenty-five million gallons of untreated swine excrement into the New River, killing an estimated ten-million fish and flooding local roads and pastures. Untreated chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, which killed millions of fish and caused skin irritation, short-term memory loss, and other cognitive problems in local residents. And in 2011, a hog farm in Illinois spilled 200,000 gallons of untreated pig waste into a creek, killing over 110,000 fish.
Animal agriculture not only pollutes water on an enormous scale, but also uses tremendous quantities of this incredibly precious natural resource, accounting for 70 percent of all the fresh water used on the planet. It takes one-thousand gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk. It takes 815 gallons of water to produce just one pound of chicken. Sixteen-hundred gallons of water are required to produce one pound of pork and the production of one pound of beef --just four quarter-pounders-- requires 2,500 gallons of water. Twenty-five hundred gallons is more water than the average person drinks in over 28 years.
A vegan could leave her shower running 6 hours a day, 365 days a year and still not waste as much water as someone who eats meat, eggs, and dairy.
On a planet where one out of every nine citizens, or about 780 million people worldwide, don't have access to clean water, this kind of waste is completely unconscionable. But you can help make a difference by going vegan.
Animal agriculture is the world's leading cause of deforestation, which contributes to topsoil erosion, habitat loss, climate change, and desertification. In the United States alone, over 260 million acres of forest, an area larger than Texas and Colorado combined, have been clear-cut and converted into cropland for cattle. In the Amazon, rainforests are being clear-cut at a rate of over 47 acres a minute to create pastures for cattle. Destruction of the world's forests on this scale is not only unsustainable but also incredibly inefficient. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, cattle pastures make up 70 percent of the world's agricultural land, but yield only 6 to 11 percent of our food.
Because a meat-centered diet requires such enormous amounts of land and other natural resources to support it, and because land and all other natural resources are finite, a meat-centered diet becomes less and less sustainable as the world's population increases. And the only way to meet the increased demand for animal by-products is to destroy forests and other ecosystems and convert them into cropland. But this destruction of the biosphere does not have to happen. It's the consumers who determine, ultimately, what the fate of the world's forests will be and everyone's choice matters. For every person who goes vegan, one acre of trees is spared every year. One acre is equal to three-quarters of a football field, or about 700 trees. That's over 13 climate-change-fighting, CO2-absorbing trees a week that will not be chopped down, and all because of the actions of just one person. By going vegan, you do the forests (and the animals who inhabit them) an enormous favor.
Animal agriculture is the world's leading producer of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (AGHG) and uses one-third of all the world's fossil fuels. According to scientists at the World Bank, animal agriculture accounts for over 50 percent of all AGHG produced world-wide. That's more than all the cars, buses, trains, ships, and airplanes in the world combined and tripled.
Over 50 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases are produced by the same industry that is responsible for more deforestation than any other industry in the world. Without trees to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by the animal by-product industry, the effects of animal agriculture on the climate are made even worse.
A study by Scarborough, et al. published in the journal Climatic Change in June, 2014, concluded that a diet that includes four or more ounces of meat per day produces over two and a half times the amount of greenhouse gases as a vegan diet. The best thing you can do to make a difference for the climate is to go vegan today.
One-hundred thousand people around the globe starve to death every day. Think about that for just a moment. Every day of every year, approximately as many people as could fit into two Yankee Stadiums die of starvation on this planet. Of those one-hundred thousand, sixteen-thousand are children. If there's enough food on this planet to feed one-hundred billion non-human animals a year, then how is it that children are starving to death by the tens of thousands every week?
The answer is quite simple: The cereal grains that could be used to feed human children are instead being shipped to feedlots, where they are fed to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, and goats. Converting plant protein into animal protein is remarkably inefficient and is an incredibly wasteful and callous misappropriation of the world's valuable and dwindling natural resources. Producing a single pound of beef, for instance, requires 16 pounds of grain. One pound of pork requires 6 pounds of grain, and every 16 ounces of edible chicken flesh that is produced requires 5 pounds of grain.
In the United States alone, 56 million acres of arable land are dedicated to growing hay for livestock production, whereas only 4 million acres are used to grow fruits and vegetables for people. Thirty percent of the Earth’s land surface, which is equivalent to 70 percent of all agricultural land on the planet, is devoted to growing crops for and raising farm animals. And according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the amount of grain fed to livestock in the U.S. alone could feed about 840 million people, roughly eleven times the number of people who die of starvation worldwide every year.
The fact is that if you eat meat, eggs, and dairy, you are taking much more than your fair share of the planet's resources, which inevitably deprives someone else of his or her fair share. A meat-centered diet perpetuates a system of inequality and injustice that is a matter of life and death for the world's hungry and under-nourished, but by going vegan you can help restore balance to a world in which far too many people have far too little to eat.
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